A state population that likely will double in the next 50 years, combined with water supplies that will be incapable of meeting that increased demand, requires that Texas officials take a hard line on conservation measures.

And agricultural water use likely will be targeted for significant reductions when a state water plan is submitted early next year.

“Irrigation will drop from 57 percent of total water consumption to 43 percent,” says Jorge Arroyo, director of special projects for the Texas Water Development Board. Arroyo discussed water issues recently at the Texas Produce Association annual meeting in San Antonio.

He says that by 2050, water supplies will drop from 9.6 million acre-feet per year to 8.6 million acre-feet. And the state population will be almost double what it is today.

“We have to reverse the trend in agricultural water use,” he says. ‘From 1990 through 1998, agricultural water use increased significantly, based on estimates. Currently, we have no mechanism in place to determine actual use. A regulation in Senate Bill 2, however, will change that and require that agricultural water use be measured.”

Arroyo says the Texas legislature began to address the critical water issue when they passed Senate Bill 1 in 1997 “in response to six major droughts in the past 50 years. We have to plan for a drought of record to determine water availability.”

That legislation authorized 16 regional water districts that were charged with developing water use plans for the next half-century. Those plans are in the final stages of development and will be coordinated into a statewide water plan.

“The state plan is due Jan. 5, 2002,” Arroyo says.

Without a reasonable conservation program, he says, the state water supply “will begin to decease after 2020 and by 2050, a significant shortage will occur.

“With a water management strategy, however, we'll be able to meet demands. We have a wide array of strategies and programs but conservation will be a significant part of the plan. Conservation of irrigation water will be a key.”

rsmith@primediabusiness.com